Beach to Bayou - February 2020
– Story and photos by Dena Temple
If you haven’t yet visited McLeod Park on Texas Plank Road – you should.
And soon there will be even more reasons to add this gem to your “favorites” list, as a long list of improvements and new features are on the horizon.
McLeod Park is a great place to spend a day, or a week, if you’re a camper. The park was formerly managed by the Pearl River Basin, but since July of 2016 it is under the ownership of the Hancock County Board of Supervisors.
The meandering Jourdan River curls its way through the 328-acre park, providing lots of private nooks for exploration, landscape and nature photography, canoeing, kayaking, boating, nature observation – regardless of your favorite outdoor pursuit, this is a great place to… well, to pursue it.
Beach to Bayou
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McLeod Park has long been known as a great campground, and a recent expansion only reinforces that standing. There are 120 cozy RV campsites with sewer, water and electric hookups, with many sites overlooking the serene Jourdan River. Prices are affordable, and reservations can be made through the park’s website. But the park is much more than a campground, with lots of amenities for both campers and day-trippers to enjoy.
The park is accessed through its entrance of Texas Plank Road. After paying a small access fee at the gate ($4 per carload), you are free to explore. Near the entrance is a large children’s play area and splash pad, where the little ones will be entertained for hours. Older kids will enjoy the 10-hole (par 3) disc golf course, said to be a great course for beginners. Two picnic pavilions are available to rent for family functions or any large group event.
With the river as the park’s curvaceous centerpiece, it’s no surprise that boating is among its most popular activities. Two well-maintained boat ramps are free for boaters to use, and trailer parking is provided.
You don’t own a boat, you say? Canoes are available to rent for either a half-day (4 hours, $15) or all day (8 hours, $25) so you can explore the Jourdan River Blueway Trail, which winds along the river from Bayou Bacon to the west to the Bayou Talla boat launch to the east. It’s one of two Blueway Trails in Hancock County and ten on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
To learn more about Mississippi Gulf Coast Blueways, visit the website for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Natural Heritage Area. This website offers dozens of locations where outdoor enthusiasts can find adventure, culture and fun.
Even if you’re not in the mood for a placid paddle, there is plenty of nature to discover on land. First, a well-maintained 1.25-mile nature trail offers a peaceful woodland setting where hikers may encounter wildlife, including a wide array of birds. Spring migration is prime season for birdwatching, but with food available year-round, a surprising number of bird species can be found here all year.
In fact, McLeod Park is part of the Mississippi Coastal Birding Trail, a collection of historically prime birding locations in the six southernmost counties of Mississippi. Learning the seasons of the park and its inhabitants can add to the overall appreciation and enjoyment of your time in the park.
Wildlife is not confined to the nature trail, however, and birds and other critters can be found around any turn, or under any rock. On a cool January morning turtles can be spotted sunning themselves on a log, and Bald Eagles soar overhead, checking the river for an unwary fish.
Big changes coming
The big news at McLeod Park is the recent announcement of a bevy of changes and additions to make the park better than ever.
Kevin Ladner, Hancock County Recreation Director, sat down with us recently to review all the coming improvements and additions. He is clearly proud of the park as it is now, and he’s very excited at what’s to come.
“We couldn’t be more excited,” said Ladner. “These changes will breathe new life into the park and attract people who never knew we were here.”
Planned changes include
- A second bathhouse;
- 30-35 additional campsites;
- A spectacular pedestrian bridge that will cross the Jourdan River to allow access to a section of the park formerly restricted to boaters only;
- A second nature trail and picnic area;
- Enhancements to the existing nature trail, including a handicap-accessible scenic overlook at an oxbow lake; and
- A new amphitheater, which will enable new programs and even musical performances in the park.
Architect Allison Anderson of unabridged Architecture has been charged with the design of the amphitheater and the dramatic bridge over the River Jourdan.
“Campers have been coming here for years, and we’re hoping that these improvements will bring lots of new people and out-of-towners to McLeod Park for the first time as well,” notes Ladner. “What’s most exciting is that all these improvements come at no cost to Hancock County taxpayers.”
The $1.7 million project is funded through GOMESA revenue sharing (the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act shares oil and gas leasing revenues with Gulf producing states and the Land & Water Conservation Fund for coastal restoration projects) and the Tidelands Trust Fund (funds derived from the lease of tidelands and submerged lands, dedicated to the conservation, reclamation and preservation of Mississippi’s tidelands, and enhancing its current public access areas).
Because of design restrictions within the buffer zone, all facilities had to meet stringent design requirements. It may come as a surprise, however, that of all the new structures, the bath house was the most challenging, says Ladner.
“Because we are within the acoustical buffer zone for Stennis [Space Center], there are severe restrictions to what we can build – and we’re basically not allowed to construct anything with a roof and four walls. No structure can be built that can technically serve as living quarters. It took a special variance to get approval for the new bath house. It was touch and go for a while there.” This is the reason, too, that there are no cabins within the park.
Ladner is looking forward to the project’s completion some time this year. “We can’t wait to welcome new visitors and campers to the park after the improvements,” he said.
“We’re especially anxious for locals to see the changes. This will really be something for them to be proud of. ”